The public is always entertained by watching celebrities fumble and crumble. Some recent events illustrate why this cruel and clinical voyeurism applies doubly to lawyers.
I’m still an active member of my state bar. Like many who have practiced law, I’m also fed up when legal posturing becomes more about showmanship than justice. In fact, one of the real "victims" of recent legal antics may be free speech itself.
Let’s review some scattered incidents that have dominated the post-election, slow news cycle of late.
The FOX TV network announced that it would air an interview with O.J. Simpson, who would be promoting his new book "If I Did It."
It’s both a disclaimer and a plain fact that the very idea of Simpson’s "project" appalled me. It’s still true, however, that suppression of the book and interview loudly violates the supposedly sacrosanct notion of free speech. Let’s just credit those whose own speech rights were used to help stop Simpson’s attempted new public-relations binge.
But it didn’t stop there. A family member, or members, of the murder victims did their own interview on CNN — the big rival of FOX, of course — and, with lawyer in tow, expressed their (understandable) outrage about how FOX parent company Newscorp had supposedly behaved so badly in advancing the Simpson project.
What this did, of course, was keep the whole Simpson story alive, and by CNN, which took the opportunity to bash FOX while riding the moral high horse. Never mind that both Newscorp and FOX ultimately did the right thing and took a huge financial bath by doing so.
Next came the sad saga of actor/comedian Michael Richards, of "Kramer" and "Seinfeld" TV fame. He was videotaped during a standup comedy routine in which he used the obviously unacceptable "N" word, as it’s called in polite company.
Richards’ career is damaged, perhaps irrevocably. It’s hard to pity him. And yet again there’s the nagging little matter of freedom of speech. Condemned he should be. But it’s not stopping there. Now comes a potential lawsuit, courtesy of publicity hound Gloria Allred.
Allred reportedly has said that she represents two of the targets of Richards’ remarks. She’s been quoted as saying she is considering taking legal action for the emotional distress her clients suffered from the comedian’s abusive remarks.
I suppose a woman of Allred’s considerable skills can find some case law to support a claim that a five-to-10-minute verbal tirade in a comedy club can result in emotional distress.
But what would the damages be? Would Allred trot out a psychiatrist to suggest her clients are so emotionally wounded that they can’t function? Maybe she’ll have them wear neck braces in court to establish a claim of verbal whiplash.
Now it’s being suggested that the whole "trial" process be junked in favor of a binding decision, apparently by an arbitrator. What a farce.
Whatever she does, many people believe it won’t be to advance the cause of justice. And it certainly won’t bolster the reputations of high-flying attorneys who seem to swoop down with talons bared wherever controversy breaks out.
There are exceptions to the rule of free-speech suppression. Last Sunday, quarterback Michael Vick of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons took out his frustrations on a group of heckling fans as he left the field by exercising his own interpretation of free speech. He "flipped the bird," which is a manual version of the dreaded "F" word, another un-tolerated speech word.
I’m a Michael Vick fan. I’m not looking for anyone to add to his already considerable troubles with this incident. But I have to ask, where is the silk-shirted corporate attorney, appearing on a major television talk show to defend the "rights" of those fans? Why didn’t Gloria Allred rush to the defense of the offended women and children who may now be scarred for life as a result of Vick’s crudity?
It seems freedom of speech and lawsuits are a highly selective matter.